rate of change

Larry Trask larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk
Fri Jan 29 14:35:09 UTC 1999

[ Moderator's comment:
  Just finishing up this topic.
  --rma ]

On Wed, 27 Jan 1999, H. Mark Hubey wrote:

> First we have to agree to measure rate of language change. Then we
> have to measure it. Then we can run all the statistical tests on
> data that linguists don't want :-)

*First* we have to agree on what *exactly* it is that we want to try to
measure.  "Measuring the rate of language change" is every bit as
diffuse a concept as "measuring the rate of social change".

Take a *much* simpler example.  How fast has baseball changed in the
20th century?  We've seen changes in the nature of the ball, many
changes in the rules, the introduction of the DH in one league but not
in the other, the introduction of new pitches, the replacement of "play
for one run" by "big bang" (except for Gene Mauch, of course), new
fielding strategies, new ballparks, night games, specialist coaches,
specialist relief pitchers, the uppercut swing, warning tracks, padding
on the walls, larger and better-conditioned players, bigger and better
gloves, larger rosters, the farm system, TV, salary inflation, black and
Hispanic players, intense competition from other sports, new statistics,
repeated changes in the strike zone, a commissioner, free agency,
colored uniforms, new fabrics, and zillions of other things.  How does
all of this add up to something we could quantify as "the rate of change
in baseball"?

And language change is a *lot* more complicated than baseball change.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk

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